Bread in the face of terrorism

I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. What would I do, if I were there in the concert hall and I heard the shots? I would fall to the floor. I would feel my heart beating in my chest. I would listen to the screams and wonder, for a moment, if dying would hurt. I would pray for help. I would think of the people I love and wish to see them one more time.

Evil is alive in our world. We go weeks between the headlines and it's easy to forget that out there, somewhere, someone is plotting to kill and steal and destroy. We go about our lives—as we should. We worry about what we should wear and we eat our meals and step on the scale and send that e-mail... And then we are stopped in our tracks by the darkness.

Every witness said the same thing. The attackers were calm. Prepared. They knew what they were doing. They shed no tears as they shed others' blood.

There are countless reasons to mourn—so many that it's impossible to mourn it all. I can't put enough flag filters on my Facebook photo to cover the world with acknowledgement. Pick what outrages you. There's plenty to choose from. The murder of innocent lives. The persistence of hatred and racism. Cruelty to animals. Cruelty to each other. But as we acknowledge evil, let us not grow comfortable with label victim. Let us not be terrorized, or turn and terrorize one another with our outrage.


Yesterday, as I was driving home from a meeting, I heard a story on the radio that brought tears to my eyes. A news anchor had gone looking through the streets of Paris, looking for signs of hope. Signs of life.

He met a Moroccan-born man named Mezian Ahmed. He owns the Boulangerie Lina, across the street from a bistro that was targeted. Here's what the story said:

Friday night, as he was alone baking bread, gunmen sprayed his storefront with bullets. One went in the doorway, through a refrigerated display cabinet, through a row of Coca-Colas and out the other side. Five bullets in all hit his shop.

He was unscathed. He came to the aid of a woman who was shot in a car outside. Then, he said, about 15 people ran into the bakery and took refuge.

A couple of hours later, President Francois Hollande declared three days of mourning and Mezian Ahmed faced a choice: Should he stay open?

"I am a baker and the son of a baker," he says. "I know very well that bread, even during wartime, must always be made. Because for the people, it's a necessity. If other jobs close, it's not serious. But bread is essential. Bread is something that everyone lives with, the rich, the poor — everyone eats bread. It's a noble profession, and I'm really very proud to be a baker."

So, just after this night of unspeakable terror, Mezian Ahmed went back to work. The bakery has stayed open, bullet holes and all. In Paris, life goes on. 

His words were a testimony to me of goodness in the face of evil. Go on baking bread. Go on providing love and comfort and sustenance to one another. Do what you were called to do. Do it well. Do it honorably.

Let us not be victims. Let us be bakers.

The Best Apps for Learning French

As you might know, Patrick and I are planning a trip to Europe. Though we haven't completely nailed down our itinerary, we know we're going to be spending a good long time in France. And from what I hear, the French really appreciate it if you at least attempt to speak their language. Ergo... I need to whip out the old textbooks.

Thankfully, now that we live in the digital age, there are plenty of options when it comes to brushing up on your parlance that don't include workbooks. In the last couple of weeks, I've tried out a handful of different apps (some free and some not-so-free) that guarantee you'll learn French. And the results are in. Here are my favorites from least to greatest.

French Language Apps Mindsnacks

3.  MindSnacks French.

 This app is game oriented, and expensive—but fun. The "free" version gives you one set of vocabulary (PG body parts), and three different games to play over and over again until you've mastered each word. It's repetitive but effective, and the visuals work like flashcards to help you memorize. Soon enough, you'll want to upgrade to the $5 version, and you'll realize it's just more of the same with other vocabulary.

PRO: Games that can be played in "silent" mode so your husband doesn't want to throw your phone out the window.

CON: Very little grammar integration or speaking practice, which is the point, right?

French Apps

2. SpeakEasy French Lite.

Incroyable! An app suited for those of us who "say" we want to learn French, but really just want to get around Paris without looking like an American idiot. This app can be a handy quick-reference for tight situations. Need to get on a train fast? click the "Railway Trains" tab, and you'll find all the relevant questions—plus, if you're really in a pinch, you can just click the question, and Siri will read it aloud for you. Although I guess that doesn't really help the whole "lazy American" stereotype. Drat.

PRO: Free, quick-referernce for real-life situations: missed trains, convenience store items you forgot, and important life questions like "Ou sont les toilette?"

CON: Unappealing/disorganized design. Some of the lists are long, which means you may be scrolling a while to find what you're looking for. Also, this doesn't teach you French. It's just a cheat sheet, albeit a helpful one.


1. Duolingo

As you can tell from the photo and its place on my list, Duolingo is by far the best app for actually learning how to speak French (or Spanish, Italian, German, or Portuguese). The app walks you through countless free lessons, that include grammar explanations, new vocabulary, and practical speaking practice. Each lesson includes steps that record you speaking into your phone's microphone. Then, some computer program checks that you don't sound absurd! Nice right? Plus, every time you do something right it rings this beautiful sound that makes you feel like you're conquering the world.

PRO: Free app that actually helps teach the language basics, with good design and helpful explanations.

ADDITIONAL PRO: This app lets you "jump" levels if you've studied French in the past and want to start with what you already remember.

CON: Entirely addictive. Also, it requires sound, which can easily annoy the people around you.

ADDITIONAL CON: This app does not offer Chinese. So I can't brush up on the language I actually spent three years studying. Get cracking on that Mandarin version Duolingo!

So there you have it folks. My favorite French apps, reviewed. Did I miss any? What apps have you used for language that are helpful? I'd love to hear!

Au revoir mon frère!